The electricity industry has reached a tipping point at which the distributed/transactional/no- or low-carbon electricity grid model begins to outrun the traditional bilateral centralized paradigm. The electricity “grid” is no longer a transmission and distribution system built so that monolithic regulated utilities can produce and distribute power to customers on a bilateral basis.
Technological advances and incentives (especially in solar PV, demand-side management, and distributed energy resources) at the distribution end, as well as “behind the meter,” are driving utility customers towards onsite generation, microgrids, and net metering, leaving fewer traditional customers over which to spread the costs of grid upkeep. The promise of affordable distributed storage only aggravates the threats, or magnifies the opportunities.
The need for grid resilience is complementing the utility goal of reliability and quality of service. Businesses cannot afford to have their data networks, wireless communications, and digital service platforms disabled even for a few minutes. We have truly become a digital economy and electricity service has to accommodate the need to be “always on.”
The emergence of commercially viable, scalable, and potentially cost-effective energy storage systems (beyond traditional pumped hydroelectric storage, PHS) changes the very nature of the grid, once considered the most sophisticated “just-in-time” industrial complex ever. Storage is like grain silos, underground natural gas storage, coal piles at powerplants, and Amazon warehouses. It allows electricity to be held as inventory. Storage also offers orders of magnitude faster response for grid disturbances.
Inventory and response means protection. Every business, in theory, can now protect itself against grid outages and transact with the grid in real time.
Energy storage is also changing the nature of the grid by forcing existing generating assets and options to get more flexible, too. The manager of a large Midwestern cogeneration facility told the editors his goal is to get a least part of this combined-cycle plant to function like a battery. The owners, he said, have made investments in new add-on equipment to do that and carve out a new revenue stream.
New peaking gas turbines are being designed to start and achieve full load in seven minutes, or less; new combined cycles have cut start times dramatically. The threat from storage to the gas-turbine world is real. Nothing changes overnight in the electricity business, but most everyone agrees that storage has become a new asset class, a force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile, the independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs), created in response to FERC initiatives to deregulate electricity, are becoming platforms for wholesale and retail electricity transactions. Inventory, whether as batteries, PHS, compressed-air storage underground, or flywheels, or as natural gas sitting in the pipeline, is what makes transactions more fluid. Customers as small as homeowners selling their PV back to the grid, and as large as industrial complexes making good use of huge volumes of available fuel, now use the grid as a platform for buying and selling.
All this additional flexibility and responsiveness is critical because intermittent renewable energy (solar PV and wind primarily) keeps getting less expensive, carbon from fossil fuels keeps getting more annoying, existing coal plants are getting regulated into retirement, and new coal is a non-starter at least until carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) becomes commercial and economic, which is not expected for at least another decade.
The same companies that provide you stationary and mobile platforms for phone, email, Internet, and social media are driving a new portfolio of home energy management devices. Established solar PV suppliers are combining their offerings with storage, leasing systems, and shared savings in the incentives and rates with residential and commercial customers. They seek to get in between the utility and its customers.
GRiD recognizes the electricity business is becoming a network business. Our content goal is to provide news coverage, industry analysis, and, perhaps most importantly, owner/operator experience with these new systems, dynamic markets, and techniques for adapting traditional assets so they don’t become irrelevant or replaced by the emerging asset class.
We will build on the legacy of the COMBINED CYCLE Journal, which recognized the dramatic displacement of traditional generating assets (coal, hydro, and gas/oil thermal plants) by the substantially more efficient advanced gas turbines. CCJ became the content provider trusted by users to the degree that most GT user groups allow only CCJ into their meetings to collect and disseminate the experience to the community.
Unlike other publications serving niche markets, GRiD is agnostic with respect to technologies and customers. We will cover the impacts of cycling supercritical coal-fired plants to “fill in” around wind equally with adding new storage assets for the same function. Our content philosophy begins with the asset owner/operator who lives and dies with the equipment and the grid owner/operator which has to manage a resilient network and transactional platform while assuring the traditional “obligation to serve” is not lost.
We will bring our audience the latest in microgrid design and operations as well as experience with the fastest starting gas turbine/generators available on the market. We will cover the early experiences with the plethora of energy storage facilities now beginning to dot the most liquid electricity markets. In all cases, we will do so from an owner/operator perspective.
Welcome to the world of GRiD.